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Robots are coming, but unlike the ones in sci-fi blockbusters, the ones at Eatsa make quinoa bowls.
The San Francisco fast-casual chain is opening its sixth location Dec. 9 at 285 Madison Ave., between 40th and 41st streets. The retro-futuristic dining room crosses a classic American automat with a Japanese cartoon, with iPad kiosks for ordering and food appearing inside digital cubbyholes. The only staffer you’ll see is there to assist with ordering.
While some people might call it sterile, co-founder Scott Drummond describes Eatsa as “a different kind of sensory experience.” The digital automat at the back of the restaurant “performs” in the uniquely positive way of Japanese devices, displaying amusing little informative and motivational messages with animations like rising suns and a curtain being lifted on the screen of your cubbyhole as your order is about to arrive. “People take selfies with them, they’re very friendly cubbies,” says Drummond.
Beyond the novelty of its presentation, Eatsa does something actually impressive: make quinoa exciting again. As a powerhouse of cholesterol- and gluten-free protein that’s sustainable, Bolivian quinoa was chosen as the centerpiece of Eatsa’s menu of customizable bowls. Instead of meat, the restaurant leans on portobello mushrooms and doesn’t serve animal products beyond eggs and cheese. Along with the automation, this keeps the base price of the bowls at a budget-friendly $6.95.
The standard bowls flit between global cuisines, like the Bento Bowl (miso portobello, apple cabbage slaw, edamame, crispy wontons and teriyaki sauce) and No Worry Curry (arugula, roasted potatoes, spaghetti squash, pickled onions, red thai curry, slaw and curried wonton strips). There’s also the option to “go to town and create a crazy concoction,” as Drummond puts it, either by adding ingredients or creating a totally customized bowl. Keep piling on the nearly 80 options, ranging from free garnishes like cilantro to 75 cents for most vegetables, up to $1.95 for proteins and avocado, and 20 sauces — until the bowl can’t actually hold anymore.
That healthy, affordable ethos extends to their drink menu. “We are big believers that soda is a disaster, generally,” says Drummond, so Eatsa makes its own sparkling drinks (95 cents) in flavors like ginger-lime and mango-guava with little to no sugar.
Orders at off-peak times should be ready in under 90 seconds, while the maximum wait should be no more than five minutes. Cut that down even further by scheduling your order through the restaurant’s app.
As for how the food and drinks are assembled, exactly, Drummond won’t say. “The robots are very finicky. But you can assume that the same way we rethought the experience at the front of house using technology is also under application in the back.” We welcome our quinoa-loving overlords.